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Tips and tricks

(Wiki)break stuff

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By Headbomb

Sometimes life gets messy. Here are a few tips on not sweating the small stuff.


Edvard Munch's The Scream painting
Is this you when you log on Wikipedia? If so, you might need a Wikibreak!

Like most people, I happen to have a life. The pandemic years have been a bit more chaotic for me than most, involving a poorly-timed job loss, moving multiple times, unstable employment, etc. This didn't really get in the way of my editing save perhaps not having access to my computer for a few days here and there. However, most recently, I decided to return to studies, which involve a two hour commute a few times a week, during a period of financial strain mostly due to bureaucratic paperwork hellholes that are yet to be resolved, and lots of homework, projects, on top of class time.

It's this last straw that kind of butted against my Wikipedia priorities. While I wanted to write more Tips and Tricks columns (you might have noticed they were missing in the last two issues), and, if push came to shove, I could certainly have done so, the reality was simply that I just didn't have it in me if I wanted to remain sane and dabble in my other more social hobbies. I needed the famous Wikibreak. I still edited, mostly on weekends, but I couldn't have long periods of time with a clear mind, so I just dabbled in mostly mindless stuff, reference cleanup, etc.

But I'm important, I can't not edit!

A man with a very tall hat
The official Grand Gom ceremonial hat. You can tell it is very important because it is a very tall hat.

Imagine my stress at the thought of me, being a Vanguard Editor, or, dare I say, a Grand Gom, the Highest Togneme of the Encyclopedia, with over 407,000 edits, reducing my productivity output? I'm currently the 78th most prolific editor on the English Wikipedia, having recently fallen from 77th, overtaken by Liz. What if [Placeholder Editor], with their mere 402,000 edits, surpasses me, and I tumble down to 79th? What then? What then?

If you ever find yourself in a similar situation, or have similar thoughts about your own importance to the community, I would invite you to read our article on Grand Poobahs, and realize that my 407,000 edits as of writing, which sounds like a lot (and it is a lot), is really not that much compared to the 1.17 billion total edits made by the community. Mine amount to roughly 0.036% of all edits ever made. I am a drop in the ocean.

This is not to say that you bring nothing to the table. Vandal fighting, DYKs on the front page, new page patrol, adding missing citations, removing poorly sourced content, creating new articles concerning an underrepresented topic or community, fighting copyright violations... these things all matter. But it helps to remind yourself that the world (or worse, Wikipedia) will not end if you take it slow for a while. Maybe it'll be a little bit less awesome if you're not around, but in the long run, Wikipedia will be better off if you take a break when you need it. On your return, you'll be in a better state of mind all around, but you'll also find yourself less prone to get into silly arguments, you'll be less bite-y, and it'll be easier to assume good faith of your fellow editors.

Recognizing you need a break

The hardest step to take a Wikibreak, at least for certain Wikipediholics, is to recognize that you need one. Common symptoms involve

  1. Having trouble managing work/life/editing balance in general
  2. Having a feeling of dread when you log on Wikipedia
  3. Being uninspired to edit when you normally have dozens of ideas about what you could edit.
  4. Editing until 3AM when you really should be sleeping because you need to get up at 6AM
  5. Find yourself neglecting "real life" activities/chores/priorities because you don't have enough time to do everything.

For me, it was simply recognizing that my long term goals were incompatible with maintaining my regular editing habits and commitments. I didn't "actively" decide I needed a break, I just realized over time that I needed to edit less because I simply didn't have as much free time as usual.

Announcing your Wikibreak

Some people like to announce they're taking a Wikibreak, mostly out of courtesy to others that might wonder why they might be slower than normal in their replies, or aren't around for some discussions that would normally interest them. WP:WIKIBREAK contains several examples of templates one might display on their user/user talk pages, such as:

Some templates offer more insight than others as to the cause of your Wikibreak, but certainly don't feel obliged to divulge more details than you feel comfortable doing so. A generic notice, like: perfectly acceptable!

You can also simply take a Wikibreak and not tell anyone. I didn't announce mine, for example, mostly because I realized over time I needed to pull back, rather than actively making an decision to have a break. That's OK too!

Enforcing the break

Various tools exist to help you maintain discipline during your Wikibreak. Mine was facilitated by some editing habits. I normally edit Wikipedia from my main computer, which consist of a fairly powerful desktop, with a dual 27-inch screen setup, a high end full mechanical keyboard, and a high end mouse. I won't lie, I'm an extremely privileged editor as far as my setup is concerned. However, when in school, in a entirely different city, I only have access to my laptop, a 13-inch screen dinosaur from 2013 that struggles to open a PDF, with a crappy laptop keyboard and crappy external mouse (if I even bother hooking it up), which is a decidedly less optimal editing experience. But I have kept this crappy laptop around for the express purpose of having a miserable editing experience on it.

Having a "desktop = Wikipedia, laptop = School" separation helps me tremendously in my discipline, and I would highly encourage anyone that struggles to separate work/school from hobbies/home life to have physically distinct setups, one for productivity/work, the other for hobbies. I do recognize that this is not something all people can afford, in which case I encourage you to find another "mental switch", like "laptop in the kitchen = work/school, laptop in the bedroom = hobbies" that helps you with this separation. Or even simply working from a different side of the table to create some sort of distinction that your mind can latch on.

For those that can't self-regulate, there is always the WikiBreak Enforcer user script, which prevents you from logging in until a certain date. You can also ask for a block if you'd rather not deal with scripts.

What's next?

There's a saying in the video game industry that a delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad. I would argue it is the same with our work on Wikipedia. Don't put yourself in a crunch situation if you can avoid it. We're all volunteers, if you need to take a week or four to yourself, take the time off! We'll still be here when you return.

For me, my involvement on Wikipedia (and the Signpost) will wax and wane with my workload, which will alternate between classes and work placement every two months until June of next year. But for you, I hope that when you next encounter high levels of Wikistress, either in yourself or in a Wikifriend, you'll keep the Wikibreak in mind as one possible way to get on top of things and avoid a Wikiburnout.

To end things, I'll invite you to share your own own Wikibreak story in the comment section! Or if you never took a Wikibreak, maybe you can share a moment where, in hindsight, you wish you had taken one.

Tips and Tricks is a general editing advice column written by experienced editors. If you have suggestions for a topic, or want to submit your own advice, follow these links and let us know (or comment below)!

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Thanks for a great article. I can vouch for the importance of taking a break. In my case I felt I was pretty much driven away from the project in the middle of 2019 by the events that led to this arbitration case and came back, tentatively at first, some 18 months later, not knowing quite what to expect. I was delighted to see that things were ticking over much as before and the community had dealt robustly with (most of) the problems I had been struggling with. Wikipedia is bigger than any one of us and will be here long after we've all gone. It can cope without any one of us for a while. If you need a break - for any reason - take it. Wikipedia will still be here and your contributions will still be welcome when you get back. WaggersTALK 16:33, 28 November 2022 (UTC)[reply]

Last Wikibreak, I wrote an operetta. A few breaks before that, though, was what killed off WP:Featured sounds, though. Apparently I was needed back then. Adam Cuerden (talk)Has about 8.2% of all FPs. Currently celebrating his 600th FP! 22:30, 28 November 2022 (UTC)[reply]

I have been in numerous wikibreaks in 2021 as I'm going through tribulations of my life at that year, before settling on semi-retirement since. I'm still editing, but at a much lower activity level than late 2020 and early 2021. Wikibreaks and semi-retirement helped me regain most of my focus towards important issues that I am facing in my life first and foremost. I remain stressed ever since, sometimes losing focus, and I didn't get the mental help I wanted, but at least I'm trying. MarioJump83 (talk) 12:34, 6 December 2022 (UTC)[reply]


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